Can’t Get No Satisfaction: CoS at the LA Street Food Fest

Let’s be real. In my eyes, The LA Street Food Fest had so much stacked up against it that it was probably destined to leave me hungry for more (no more lame food references, I’m sorry…). First off, the event was immediately preceded by me taking my dog to the hospital to treat a leg injury. Second, after committing to cover the event, I had the opportunity to take a private luxury four-seat jet to Las Vegas for the night. Just in sheer numbers, the value of the jet flight was more than 70 times the food festival ticket price. But, how could I live with myself if I flaked on our beloved readers? And more importantly, I’m scared of Roffman. And lastly, and probably most importantly, my real agenda for covering the event was because I planned on taking a certain lady. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and I was not too pumped to be going to a five hour dinner by myself.

But, I’m a professional! Kind of. I should be able to check the baggage at the door and provide an objective report no matter my frame of mind! After all, this event included two of the finest bands in LA at the moment in Warpaint and The Deadly Syndrome, 60+ food vendors, an ice cream social, all you can drink beer, and a tequila tasting. Even with a banged-up heart, a sick pup and better things to do, this seemed like a situation that I would be hard-pressed to not have a good time. And, if everything went according to plan and/or was planned at all, it would have. However, LA Street Food Festival was ultimately undone by its own ambition.

First, the petty gripes that point towards inexperience of the festival organizers… Though I arrived near the end of VIP time, the parking lot I was supposed to park in was blocked out and there were absolutely no staff hired to direct people around. I literally spent 25 minutes just figuring out where I was supposed to park. After that fiasco, I went to the media check in and saw the massive line for general admission. If I had bought a ticket, I might have just gone home right then. There was also no program or directory or map to tell you what vendors were there, how the Rose Bowl (it was my first time ever at the stadium and I must admit to getting chills when walking on the same grass that model citizens like Matt Leinart and OJ Simpson played on) was organized, what time the bands were, etc… The staff was courteous and would help out with any knowledge they had, but I ran into one person…once.

Then there were the major gripes, the dealbreakers, the reasons that LA Street Food Festival was, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, a failure. How do I know it wasn’t bitterness that caused me to perceive this and that it wasn’t actually a rad event? After all, it did sell-out… Well, because I heard no less than 50 conversations in passing that had something to complain about, and these people had dates with them, probably had healthy pups and surely had nothing better to be doing. Except for the people who apparently did and left within the first hour. So what was the big deal? Well, with people paying up to $65 dollars for food and drink, they should not have a hassle when it comes to actually getting the food or drink. The lines were far too long for anybody to consume anywhere near what they paid to get in. And drinks were worse. I wandered around a football stadium sure that there must be somewhere to get some ice water. I found a Pom after 10 minutes, but no one knew where to get drinks, besides booze. I would have paid extra for the water. In fact, I wanted to pay extra and buy stuff at the random stores they allowed to setup near the front, maybe even a Warpaint t-shirt. But, no ATM was brought in for the event and every shop was cash only.

These are the kinds of things that ruin an evening, that cause a guy to spend a half hour wandering around the outside of the building, taking pictures of trees and foothills. These are the kind of things that deter people from returning again in the future. And no one in particular is to blame. The founders  had a great idea for an event, but miscalculated their capacity. As for the vendors, I imagine they cooked the usual delicious cuisine, though I couldn’t tell you because the sprawling lines looked too overwhelming, which left me with maybe, I don’t know, a handful of food to myself? Maybe the large crowd made it hard for the vendors to keep up with demands? Who knows. My idea for next year, which I assume should happen because this had to be a huge monetary success, is to double the ticket price and sell half as many tickets. Because the one thing lost at this festival was the appreciation of food. There was hardly even a discussion on the subject. Nobody compared a dish to one another, discussing its finer points, and relishing its flavors, which surprised me. I mean, isn’t that what this kind of thing should be about? A festival for foodies, that non-foodies can attend, for a price. When people are stressing about getting their money’s worth and attempting to feel  like they didn’t get ripped off, they are not going to enjoy the food in the same way that a more relaxed and less fearful event could (and should) provide.

If you’ve arrived to this point of the review, I’m sure you have at least wondered why the hell is this on Consequence of Sound? Like I mentioned earlier, the festival did score a win by booking two local bands that would be relative unknowns to most of the attendees, but not to the local music geeks. Warpaint has been making more and more noise with each festival they play, and they are 100% deserving of the attention. The Deadly Syndrome is also an L.A. band, but a little less known, not quite as good as Warpaint but still a solid lineup addition, nonetheless. I was hoping that Saturday afternoon was going to be the perfect marriage of cuisine and concert, playing off of and enhancing each other. But in reality, they were two separate entities, with the crowd pretty disinterested in hearing some bands they didn’t know.

In fact, though there was music playing throughout the event (I know this because I distinctly remember hearing “Float On” at one point and thinking “so it’s going to be one of those kinds of parties…”), The Deadly Syndrome’s set that began a little after 7 p.m. completely shifted the evening into a separate gear…for about 20-30 individuals of the thousands in attendance. Sure, tons of people sat on blankets that spanned the famous football field and could have very well been paying dutiful attention by watching on the giant monitors and listening through the stadium PA. But, like I said, I noticed one song throughout the whole day, and noticing music that’s playing faintly in the background is usually my thing.

However, beginning with The Deadly Syndrome’s set, whom I must admit ignorance prior to Saturday’s show, and continuing with Warpaint, I actually started having an alright time. Of the small crowds who actually stood near the stage and actively paid attention, the vast majority were either friends of the bands or media. And keep in mind, this wasn’t the music media. This was the food media, or possibly just the plain old regular media. I was shocked to see how passive the photographers were, seemingly not realizing that you should get up close, be aggressive and passionate and that most importantly, that bands are kind of used to it.

So with the realization that there weren’t many new fans to make, both groups seemed to play toward the media. I know, it’s really weird to think of a band actually giving in to what is just a glorified photo session, but The Deadly Syndrome posed, laid down, climaxed by gathering for a group photo opportunity near the drums. Maybe they always do this, but it made sense. If the majority of people that are watching your set are kind of obligated to be there, you might as well give them what they want. As for the music, Arcade Fire is the obvious touch stone for me, and if you can ever compare a band to the Arcade Fire and not use a word like crappy to precede it, you are probably going to make me and a good many folks happy. They actually reminded me of Light Pollution, who I had recently seen and enjoyed.

The band members were comfortable with each other, as well, laughing, talking, and collaborating in weird ways. A little trip into their history reveals a band that released a moderately praised debut (on the electronic label Dim Mak, of all things), but kind of lost the passion to continue the financially struggle. Their website has a very Ted Leo-ish letter about the realities of the world, how starting a family and having health care at some point take priority over rocking. And with little adieu, they self-released their second full-length, titled Nolens Volens, last Spring and have only a couple LA festival dates on the docket. In Pitchfork’s review of their debut, Ortolan, they said that if anyone in LA could make a breakthrough like Funeral, it woudn’t surprise them if it were The Deadly Syndrome. Let’s hope they keep riding their struggle out, even if it is in their current laid back way. After all, LA could use a masterpiece.

Then, there was Warpaint. If The Deadly Syndrome is fighting to stay alive, Warpaint is fighting to stay young. They are a band that could seemingly blow up at any moment and pretty much everyone I have encountered reaches the same lever of hyper-impressed awe when they first check them out. And the thing is, what they bring to the stage is almost indescribable. Jenny Lee Lindberg, Emily Kokal, and Theresa Wayman are like a three woman front for the band, with each taking turns on lead vocals and each carrying their very own charisma. It’s impossible to deny the base-level sexiness to their music but it doesn’t stem from the fact that they happen to be a band made up of pretty girls. From the way they carry themselves to the never-ending grooves that make-up their songs, it’s like Warpaint is in tune with some secret of the universe that you only get a glimpse of in their live show and wish badly to know more. But they aren’t sharing their secrets. Maybe on the next album.

The ladies of Warpaint were also in a playful mood this evening, as they upped their usual strut and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. And, you have to realize, we were at The Rose Bowl. As I mentioned, I’ve lived 22 of my 28 years in Southern California and had never even been to The Rose Bowl. To play The Rose Bowl is reserved for bands like The Rolling Stones, U2 and the like, so the only way bands like these two get to this venue is at a function like the LA Street Food Fest or as the opener for U2. So even with the majority of people not paying attention to the tunes and probably bitterly wallowing in their sorrows, to play at one of the biggest venues in the world has to be a thrill.

And though, at times during the day I was surely one of the wallowers as well, I did get to see a couple of rad bands, I got to take a publicity photo for the mayor of Los Angeles (that is a whole separate story), and my dog will be fine if she takes it easy for a week. If these two small bands can make the best out of a less than ideal situation, why can’t the rest of us? I’m sure LA Street Food Fest will be back next year as a smarter festival that has learned from its mistakes. From FYF Fest to Audiotistic to HARD to Hootnanny to even Coachella, LA festivals tend to know their audience and cater to them first. LA Street Food Fest seemed to want to please the entire city. Hopefully next time, they’ll just start with the foodies and build their way up from there.

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